Usually a predictions piece is the easiest and breeziest piece of the preseason. We all have ideas, opinions, dreams, takes — even some bad taeks. You open up a word file, and the thing writes itself.
Of course, 2020 is not a regular season, or a regular year. I think most of us can fairly label it the strangest — and perhaps the scariest — year of our lives. All internal clocks are broken.
I don’t know how deep we’ll get into the baseball season. We can hope. We can dream. And games or not, these were a few ideas I had percolating around my head, some 2020 speculations that we may or may not find out about.
The Red Sox have a loaded offense — but wind up being outscored
Even with Mookie Betts out of town, this Boston lineup card is monstrous. J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Xander Bogaerts all have MVP upside. I’m willing to blame Andrew Benintendi’s messy 2019 on a bushel of injuries. Mitch Moreland is a solid stick against righties, Christian Vazquez can outhit most catchers, Alex Verdugo might be one of those lefty swingers that thrives in Fenway. Maybe something will pop with Jackie Bradley Jr. at the bottom of the lineup — some technical tweaks last year showed promise — and Jose Peraza isn’t the worst No. 9 hitter. It’s a deep bench, too.
But the shame is that the 2020 Red Sox will never hit against their own rotation. Chris Sale is down for the year, Eduardo Rodriguez isn’t healthy, David Price is long gone. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez would be fourth or fifth starters for most contending clubs — if that. In Boston, they’re peanut butter and jelly, the top two guys. It gets worse after that. At least the games will be fun to watch.
At least one pitcher wins an MVP Award
I’m against any relief pitcher winning a Cy Young or MVP Award, though I’m a little more open-minded to starting pitchers getting the big prizes — after all, every MLB spread is basically shaped around the probable starters for each team. Those individual efforts have the biggest say in how successful things are on a given night.
But also consider what kind of starting pitcher seasons win big awards. The voters like tidy ratios, sure, but they also like snappy W/L records. If someone goes 9-1 with an ERA under 2 and a sub-1 WHIP, that will gain attention.
Award voting has gotten a lot more sophisticated in the modern era; for a good laugh, look at some of the comical winners in the 70s, 80s, 90s. In prior generations, RBIs were the nectar of the gods; today, voters understand things like OBP and park effects. But counting stats, for better or for worse, are often a major part of a hitter’s seasonal resume, and it might be difficult to separate oneself in a 60-game sample. I can’t get past the idea that a Cole or a Strasburg or some young gun (justify my love, Chris Paddack) might win almost all of his starts and collect a bunch of voting steam.
Bryan Reynolds wins a batting title
I could take the easy way out and merely say “Bryan Reynolds has a useful fantasy season” but let’s have some fun and let our hair down. This guy gets out of bed in the middle of the night and hits line drives. And while his pedigree isn’t dripping with can’t-miss buzz, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.
Reynolds was good enough at Vanderbilt to be a second-round pick in 2016. And let’s check the averages in the minors: .317 in rookie ball, .312 in High-A ball, .302 in Double-A, and then .367 in two weeks of Triple-A last year. The Pirates let him go for 134 games, and a snappy .314/.377/.503 slash followed with 16 homers.
Not bad for a Yahoo ADP of 163. And Reynolds is still unrostered in about 17 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Reynolds isn’t elite with his batted-ball profile, but he hits the ball harder than the average player. He’s a zippy 76 percent in sprint speed. He’s yet to fail at any level as a pro. Maybe he can do something special in 60 games, or whatever this 2020 season turns out to be.
The Giants are (by far) the worst team in baseball
When I saw San Francisco’s adjusted over/under number, I couldn’t write the “under” fast enough. Three of the team’s most important offensive pieces — Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Evan Longoria — will all miss the opener. And Posey, of course, has opted out for the entire year.
The pitching staff has a bunch of pillow contracts and plausible upside guys. Maybe Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija can find something in their mid-30s. I’ve been guilty of believing in Kevin Gausman for a while (playing the “at least he’s out of Baltimore” card), but he didn’t pop in Atlanta or Cincinnati, either.
And then there’s manager Gabe Kapler, who’s a pesky one. He has a bit of that Matt Patricia rub — a little antagonistic, a little too strategically cute for his own good. Will he be able to win over his locker room, especially if the team is competitively dead in McCovey Cove even before a pitch is thrown? Does anyone miss Kapler in Philly? Maybe I should double down on the Phillies/OVER simply because Kapler is gone; that team is too talented to meander around .500 forever.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a Top 10 fantasy catcher
This one is a partial cheat, because the Rangers view Falefa as their starting third baseman. But he already carries the catcher tag in Yahoo, and that’s all we care about. This is one of our favorite all-time fantasy hack: A fantasy-eligible catcher who isn’t forced to catch.
The career stats won’t win you over here. Don’t even look at them. Just know Kiner-Falefa has been a frozen rope machine all summer and the team can’t stop singing his praises. And the fantasy catcher landscape is a colossal mess after about 5-6 names. If Falefa can merely be a league-average hitter but maintain everyday playing time, this is a fantasy steal.